Toronto Maple Leafs fans appear to have hit a tipping point, and the vitriol and social media over the past few games has gotten extreme.
It’s not difficult to see why – after a hot start, the Leafs have been the worst team in the NHL, full stop, since the beginning of November. Just five regulation wins and 29 points in the past 34 games, and now the Leafs find themselves barely hanging on to ninth in the Eastern Conference.
The playoffs seemed a foregone conclusion early, and those who supported the team’s offseason moves appeared vindicated. The season certainly isn’t lost with 36 games still to play, but the playoffs now seem like an "if things break right" proposition.
What follows is a look at some of the Twitter criticism of two key players, Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle, and will at times contain offensive language (from respondents, not myself).
(Note: This was written before Sunday’s game but has been slightly edited since. Despite a win that saw New Jersey lose more than Toronto win [their shootout record, woof], I think many of the feelings will remain the same.)
The public firing criticism at head coach Randy Carlyle is easy to understand. While the "toaster" and "throw the toast" memes are born out of a coach trying hard to seem likable on television rather than any inherent incompetence, Carlyle’s been a major part of the problem.
Jake Gardiner, who has been one of the Leafs best two defensemen in more games than he hasn’t been, hit the press box for Mark Fraser. Nazem Kadri has been in and out of the doghouse so much that Snoopy is charging him rent. Peter Holland was sparsely used once Tyler Bozak came back, so the team called up red-hot Carter Ashton, just to sparsely use him (and have him fight, apparently).
Perhaps most egregiously, Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren have played in 35 and 21 games, respectively, each averaging less than six minutes of ice time, meaning the Leafs are often running with NHL-94 style, three-line roster set ups. If that was an actual plan based on elite conditioning and some strategy, I’d be willing to listen, but it’s not – the team feels the need to dress enforcers, who rarely play and put additional pressure on the other three lines. The fact that McLaren and Orr are sixth and seventh on the team in offensive zone start percentage should be enough to get Carlyle a stern talking to from the higher-ups.
Carlyle has won a Norris and a Stanley Cup, yes. Those things can not be taken away from him, and his present struggles certainly don’t mean he did a bad job and got lucky with the Ducks (but look at them now!). Instead, Carlyle seems inflexible in his style, unwilling or unable to adapt to a lack of success with that style, and completely incapable of leveraging skill players.
But he’s probably not going anywhere any time soon, so we’re left to complain. And complain we did, like on Friday when I asked twitter to describe him in five words (this got a lot of response, but here are a few of the best and/or over-the-top ones; sorry if your’s didn’t make it – it was either too profane, someone else beat you to it or I got lazy embedding all these and you’re the innocent victim).
Glad he’s not our coach. RT @BlakeMurphyODC: Describe Randy Carlyle in five words.
— Puck Buddys (@PuckBuddys) January 10, 2014
@BlakeMurphyODC Good? Try. Bad? No try.
— Justin Morissette (@JustinMoris) January 10, 2014
— Ross Linn (@ross_linn) January 10, 2014
— Rob Bertrand (@Bertly83) January 10, 2014
— A. C. Heron (@abelchristopher) January 10, 2014
“@BlakeMurphyODC: Describe Randy Carlyle in five words.” A Brain dead goat scrotum
— Nathan (@Lebdaslegacy) January 10, 2014
— Clark Aitken (@clrkaitken) January 10, 2014
— Jack. (@teamjack) January 10, 2014
@BlakeMurphyODC Divisive, arrogant, incompetent, blustering dinosaur.
— Matt Pratt (@Majupra) January 10, 2014
— Mike Chapman (@MaterialsMike) January 10, 2014
— Ryan Chow (@jehovasvictim) January 10, 2014
The criticism of general manager Dave Nonis is just as easy to understand, but far more hypocritical for some. Despite a few of the writers on this site and many on Leafs Twitter disliking the offseason moves, there were a lot of people excited by the David Clarkson signing, okay with the Tyler Bozak extension and not at all mad about the Jonathan Bernier trade.
And to be fair to Nonis, none of those moves on their own were indefensible. I thought Clarkson would be better than this, but that the term and annual value of his deal would start to look terrible in year three or four, not year one. And Bernier has been excellent most nights, though his career save percentage is still very similar to James Reimer’s (not to mention that Ben Scrivens has been awesome, on and off the ice).
As for the Bozak decision, well, 19 points in 23 games is pretty good. You can’t fault the GM for injuries, really, and Bozak has produced points and narrative for HBO. But he’s still not a top line center, his faceoff win rate is way down, and they’re essentially paying Bozak double, since they cut ties with Mikhail Grabovski – he of 32 points in 42 games – to be able to sign him. Oh, and Clarke MacArthur has 33 points, as well.
All of this is to say, the team has kind of turned out as some cautioned. The biggest concern is that Nonis continues to build the team in the image of the coach, who isn’t doing a good job. They’ve moved skill for size or intangibles in several places to appease Carlyle and build his system, but it’s not working. If Carlyle goes, the roster will once again need reshaping.
Again, not to revise history – I didn’t think they’d be quite this bad. But a lot of the moves Nonis has made look bad in retrospect, and, like with Carlyle, people were happy to describe him in five words when I asked as much on Saturday.
@BlakeMurphyODC ugh why no dave stop
— Jeff Veillette (@Jeffler) January 10, 2014
@BlakeMurphyODC Spending Money Badly, So Toronto
— Julien Rodger (@ASFW_jrodger) January 10, 2014
@BlakeMurphyODC He’s Randy Carlyle in disguise
— Mohamed Mohamed (@MoeSquare) January 10, 2014
— Russell (@RussellAnder) January 11, 2014
— Manny (@MannyElk) January 11, 2014
Following Carlyle, ruining the team RT @BlakeMurphyODC: Describe Dave Nonis in five words.
— Alex Mamalis (@degratesports) January 11, 2014
— Kyle (@kyleberndt) January 11, 2014
— Kurtis Nightfish (@FactorOfK) January 11, 2014
— Ben Munro (@QualifiedView) January 11, 2014
@BlakeMurphyODC hopefully fired by tomorrow morning
— TV’s Brent (@TVsBrent) January 11, 2014
And the best two…
— Alex Mamalis (@degratesports) January 11, 2014
— Dennis King (@DKingBH) January 11, 2014
So, yeah…people are pretty fed up. While some have criticized the fans for turning their back on a team "so quickly," the frustration can be summed up with two images:
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) January 11, 2014
— T (@tyoung1110) January 10, 2014